More changes at the palace

30 01 2017

When the last king died, the palace was essentially in the administrative hands of a bunch of old men, many of them who had been around as long as the king himself.

When the prince became king, he moved some of the old men off the Privy Council and replaced them with serving military personal – serving mainly in the junta.

Some other changes are coming just because old guys are falling off the perch. Following the death of his twin brother Keokhwan in September 2016, the Bangkok Post reports that Grand Chamberlain Khwankeo Vajarodaya died at the age of 89 last Saturday, essentially of old age.

His funeral will be managed by the Bureau of the Royal Household, with the king assigning Privy Counselor Palakorn Suwanrath as the royal representative at the bathing rite. That seems a bit odd, given his brother has Princess Sirindhorn preside. In fact, the new king and the Vajarodyas have not always got on. Royal watcher Andrew MacGregor Marshall had this to say:

One of the most prominent families of palace officials is the Vajarodaya clan (the surname is sometimes transliterated as Watcharothai). The octogenarian family patriarch Kaeokhwan Vajarodaya was a childhood friend of King Bhumibol, and has been Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau since 1987. This means that — officially, at least — he is in charge of the sprawling palace bureaucracy of several thousand officials that manages royal affairs, but in fact, as a leaked U.S. cable noted in 2009, Kaeokhwan is senile, and for many years the Royal Household Bureau has been run by his sons Ratthanwut and Watcharakitti. Meanwhile, over the past two decades, Kaeokhwan’s nephew Disthorn Vajarodaya has become particularly close to Bhumibol. The same leaked U.S. cable named him in 2009 as one of the very few people in the king’s innermost circle of confidantes, and another cable describes him as a “well-known associate of the King”. Disthorn was chairman of the king’s Rajanukhrao Foundation and a Grand Chamberlain in the Royal Household Bureau. Over recent years he has usually been at Bhumibol’s side when the king makes his rare public appearances. He has become a familiar face to most Thais who have often seen him on royal news broadcasts, accompanying the king.

Last week, the Facebook page กูต้องได้ 100 ล้าน จากทักษิณแน่ๆ, which regularly shares leaked information from within the junta, published a copy of an extraordinary order from the crown prince. It stated that Disthorn Vajarodaya was instructed to attend a special training course so he could learn to perform his duties properly, and thereafter he would serve as a private page of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. He would be banned from ever again running any of the agencies in the Royal Household Bureau. A couple of days ago, a photograph was published on กูต้องได้ 100 ล้าน จากทักษิณแน่ๆ showing Disthorn and his cousins Ratthanwut and Watcharakitti apparently undergoing their special training — the three elderly men appear to be doing some kind of drill in military uniform, looking distinctly uncomfortable.

Vajiralongkorn clearly intends to publicly shame the three palace officials, and then continue to torment them indefinitely afterwards. Disthorn, for years one of the closest friends of King Bhumibol, suddenly finds himself forced to obey the whims of Vajiralongkorn, first in a humiliating training course and then as the crown prince’s personal page. It is a dizzying fall from grace, and will be an ongoing nightmare for him.

On Khwankeo’s sons, Thaanit was a “special expert of the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary, and … Dissathorn … [was] a high-ranking executive of the Bureau of the Royal Household.”

In another consolidation, the Bangkok Post reports that the king “has appointed ACM Sathitpong Sukwimol, the King’s secretary, as caretaker and manager of his personal assets and interests.”

Back in 2014, Sathipong played the role of secretary to the prince and was involved in bringing down the family of the estranged wife, then Princess Srirasmi and in reorganizing the palace’s troops.





More “commissions” and corruption

25 01 2017

The Bangkok Post today is a broadsheet of corruption and potential corruption. The stories range from a person identified as a senior official stealing cheap hotel art work in Japan to yet another admission of bribe-commissions in Thailand.

We can only think that the official forgot which country he was in. In Thailand, the great and powerful can do what they like. However, the latest story on a U.S. firm, General Cable Corporation, that has entered another agreement to avoid prosecution over commissions paid, continues to define business practice in Thailand.

General Cable “has agreed to pay $82.3 million to halt the U.S. government’s investigation into inappropriate payments to government officials in Egypt, Angola, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia and Thailand.” The U.S. Department of Justice has stated that:money

… [b]etween 2002 and 2013, General Cable subsidiaries paid approximately $13 million to third-party agents and distributors, a portion of which was used to make unlawful payments to obtain business, ultimately netting the company approximately $51 million in profits.

In Thailand, this scandal “involves the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA), the Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA) and TOT Plc.”

In the usual way, the agencies have “set up a panel to look into the case.” In the Rolls Royce cases, everyone is running for cover and the agencies who are investigating themselves reckon that they may not be able to get names and details to allow a result to “investigations.”

We feel a cover being thrown over the allegations. And no one has said much about how the payments began under the military regime led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon and recognized great and good former unelected premier Anand Punyarachun. The good people always seem to have a cover of teflon.moneybags

Another story is about the military junta’s decision to buy submarines from the Chinese. Billions of baht. Who is getting the commissions on this deal? As we’ve said many times, commissions is normal, so we can’t help but wonder.

Yet another story is about a whiffy deal by the military junta to extend a “contract to manage a landmark convention centre [Queen Sirikit National Convention Center] in Bangkok by another 25 years instead of calling a new bid has drawn criticism it favoured a liquor tycoon.” The junta agreed to a state contract “with N.C.C. Management & Development Co (NCC), a company under the business empire of Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi.”

The original contract was handed out in 1991, expired last year, and is now handed over for another 25 years. It is stated that “the renewal of the contract without calling a bid was stipulated in the previous contract.” Hmm, 1991. General Suchinda again or Anand?

Of course, Charoen is not only one of Thailand’s richest and its biggest landowner, but also a great royalist and with great links with the military. As a big donor to the palace, he’s surely great and good. But this quote seems to say it all:

Sumet Sudasna, president of the Thailand Incentive and Convention Association, said the failure to call a bid blocked the chance for other companies to compete with NCC and for the government to maximise its income from the property.

“The estimated return of 100 million baht a year or less than 10 million per month on average is too low, given the prime location of the QSNCC…”.

 

 





Charter changes are secret

23 01 2017

The Bangkok Post reports that the draft constitution has been returned to National Legislative Assembly and the Constitution Drafting Committee for changes demanded by the palace.

The amendments demanded by the king are to be written into the charter “by a special 11-member committee in line with observations from the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary, CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan said on Monday.”

We would assume that the special committee has already been directed on what changes are required by the palace and acceded to by the military junta. It is reported that the “amended version of the new constitution must be returned to … the [k]ing within one month for royal endorsement.” (Of course, “endorsement” is now a euphemism.)

The report then has a truly amazing claim: “As for the observations from the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary, the new charter amendment committee agreed they could not yet be disclosed publicly…”.

The Thai public are not permitted to know how the “constitution, which was drafted by the CDC, [and] was approved by referendum on Aug 7 last year” is being changed and why.

Sure, they will eventually find out what has been changed, but they can’t know about it now and presumably won’t know until it is already “endorsed” by the very person who wants it changed.We did previously explain that the “referendum” was a PR stunt.

That, folks, is Thai-style democracy.





Concocting constitutionalism

13 01 2017

The Bangkok Post describes The Dictator as “furious” about reporting on the relationship between the king and the junta’s government.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha seems to be in a lather over perceptions that the king has stepped beyond the bounds of his constitutional position. Prayuth reckons the reason for this is that the media hasn’t reported on the king’s demands of the government carefully enough.

It is very hard to believe that the media in Thailand would not be exceptionally careful about how they report anything about the monarchy. After all, they have to be very wary of the draconian lese majeste law, wielded like a child’s bat at a piñata by this military regime.

The Dictator insisted that “the [k]ing did not ask the government to amend the new constitution as reported by the media.” In full tantrum mode, Prayuth said he was “angered” by the alleged misreporting.He diagnosed the “problem” as the “local media … feeding off foreign media reports, saying this had caused damage, without elaborating.”

We can only guess that the “damage” is either to Prayuth or to (fake) notions of constitutionalism. Perhaps Prayuth has received a literal or verbal boot to his posterior from the palace. More likely, he’s reflecting a position that the junta learned from the 2006 coup and that is to distance the palace from the military thugs who have hijacked power.

We recall the efforts that Prayuth and his band of constitutional criminals went to after the 2014 coup to declare the palace’s distance from the junta. Smashing the constitution in 2006 was seen by pretty much everyone as the work of General Prem Tinsulanonda and a bunch of palace insiders as co-conspirators, with the king and the queen welcoming the coup leaders just hours after the illegal event. That was an eye-opening event for many in Thailand and took royal stocks to lows not seen since the mid-1970s.

This is why Prayuth and his junta wanted to makes sure that the palace was seen as somewhat distant from their illegal acts.

So Prayuth is worried that the new king’s actions in telling the government to changes aspects of the constitution he’s miffed about is being seen as constitutional meddling. It is exactly that, but that’s not the message Prayuth or the palace wants out there, even if the media’s reporting has been accurate.

In other words, Prayuth is constitutional fence mending after the the fact of meddling.

He declared that “he had never said the [k]ing had asked the government to amend the new charter awaiting royal endorsement.” He attacked the press: “How could you report that the [k]ing had asked the government to amend the charter? It’s not true…”.

It is true, but not the preferred story. As the Post story says,

Reporters responded by saying that the prime minister had said on Tuesday that the [k]ing had advised that there were three to four provisions that need to be amended to fit in with the monarch’s power.

Prayuth retorted:

I said His Majesty had spoken to the Privy Council, not directly to the government…”. He went on to weave the story: “The Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary sent a letter about the [k]ing’s observations to the government and the government agreed to make changes to the constitution of its own accord….

That story might be true or it might not, but it hardly matters for the facts of what’s happening. For Prayuth it matters because the junta wants to wipe the king’s fingerprints from constitutional meddling. We feel sure that the notion that the junta “agreed to make changes to the constitution of its own accord” is clearly a concoction.

So contorted and so legally dubious is this process of constitutional meddling that the junta has had to make several retrospective changes to the interim constitution.

The National Legislative Assembly has rushed the changes through to “allow the government to ask for the new constitution back from the [k]ing so revisions can be made.”

Once those retrospective changes are made, then the draft constitution, “approved” by a “referendum,” can then be changed to suit the king.

The Dictator may feel that concocting constitutionalism is like a magician’s card trick and no one will notice, but it’s too late, everyone saw the king.





More militarization

2 01 2017

The militarization of politics is a seemingly a worldwide trend. In Thailand, of course, it has been the norm for more than eight decades. Thailand’s military dictatorship has seen the military brass in charge of pretty much everything.

Military men in Thailand are not known for their intelligence. Rather, they are characterized by their dimwitted approach to anything challenging, their unbridled capacity for murderous action against opponents and their jellybacked contortions in the hierarchical society they have shaped.

With this in mind, PPT always gets wondering when a relatively new jellyback begins to get lippy on politics and the military. It might be just because it is new year, but PPT couldn’t help but notice a series of Bangkok Post reports all citing Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart. Why is he suddenly talking and considered newsworthy? What do his bosses in the junta think about this?

The first story is the most unlikely, but suggestive of the potential for conflict within the military. Yes, we know that the story is sold as the Army chief wanting to reduce conflict within the military brass, but the opposite seems more likely. Chalermchai states that he “adheres to the merit system, a mechanism employed to prevent problems associated with frustration over promotions seen as unfair by some.”

No Army commander has ever used a merit system, so this will upset the existing cliques, including the murderous “Burapha Phayak (Tigers of the East) … the faction of army officers who had served at the 2nd Infantry Division of the Queen’s Guard based in Prachin Buri” and the Wong Thewan faction that links to the “1st Division of the King’s Guard in Bangkok.”

Officers trained in quelling domestic political passions and ass-licking in palace circles will find the notion of “merit” threatening. Our guess is that Chalermchai may be seeking to limit the promotions of those officers considered close to the king.

The second story relates to “southern unrest.” He predicts a decline in violence over the next couple of years. However, his reasons for this claim are unclear. We wonder how he feels about the coordinating role of General Udomdej Sitabutr, a former Army boss, to run things in the south? Chalermchai’s position is likely undermined. Not unrelated, the conflict in the south is a huge money spinner for the Army, and this move involving Udomdej may siphon those funds elsewhere.

The third story is the most bizarre. General Chalermchai is reported to have “expressed confidence no coup would be staged to challenge the election results no matter who wins, saying the rules would be respected.” PPT had not heard any rumors of a potential coup, so we wonder why Chalermchai was motivated to speak?

In addition, the result of the junta’s “election,” now more likely in 2018 than 2017, is not in doubt. The junta will not allow a result it does not want and desire. So, who in the Army would be dissatisfied with the outcome? Who are the junta’s military opponents?

As it turns out, his response was to a question about what the Army would do if “the old political clique [a pro-Thaksin party] won a mandate to form a government.” That is simply not going to happen, so Chalermchai’s response is more than necessary. Why’s that?

He did go on to warn about political discontent: “It is useless to create trouble because it could give a reason to the NCPO [the junta] to extend the roadmap.”

It is always troubling when military types begin talking about coups and politics. Their heavy boots trample all and when more than one set of boots is dancing, many others risk being trodden on and being bumped aside.





Brotherly love

30 12 2016

The 2014 military coup was intended to make up for the failures of of the 2006 putsch. In many ways, that 2006 intervention was General Prem Tinsulanonda’s coup. He was deeply involved in planning it, ensured military “backbone” for the royalist coup and arranged for his Privy Council colleague, General Surayud Chulanont, to become prime minister in a royalist and military backed government.

Yet the 2006 coup was a failure because the coup masters misunderstood the nature of the electoral support for Thaksin Shinawatra. The old men who claimed Thailand as their realm and who opposed popular sovereignty mistakenly believed Thaksin was reviled throughout the land and not just in their royalist cabals and yellow shirted strongholds in Bangkok and parts of the south.

The lessons taken from the failure of Prem’s coup was that, in 2014, a far deeper and more extensive military repression was required in order to, as the yellow-shirted ideologues put it, uproot the Thaksin regime. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, General Pravit Wongsuwan and their junta-cum-government of military brass has been the ruthless military dictatorship that Prem and other palace-related monarchists wanted and needed.

This is why the grand old political meddler is so enthralled and enamored of General Prayuth. He sees a true “son” at work for the military brotherhood and for the palace. When the junta comes calling at Prem’s taxpaper-funded mansion, he’s so very happy.

As the Bangkok Post reports the most recent mutual posterior polish, General Prem was effusive in his praise.

prem-entralled

Prem told the well-wishers who came to pay their respects to the palace’s chief political player that “he was aware of the government’s hard work.” He praised the dictatorship: “The government [he means junta] is exhausted and the prime minister, even more so.” Prem expressed his full support for the junta.

General Prem showered praise on General Prayuth, saying the “more exhausted” Prayuth is, “the greater success there is because the prime minister is committed to bringing happiness back to the nation…”. Prem expressed his full support for The Dictator, declaring: “I’m glad the prime minister and everyone here is dedicated to the country’s cause. We may be tired but we are not despondent…”.

He seems to view his palace and the junta as a team, running the country as only they can, with vigor and determination translated as repression and political regression.

He also “urged Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and the armed forces leaders to do their best to help Gen Prayut,” and drew on palace propaganda for support, mythologizing the dead king: “If one feels on the verge of losing steam, he only needs to look up at the picture of the late King who had endured hard work for 70 years. That is far more than what any of us has gone through…”. Nonsense for sure, but it is the linking of monarchy and military that’s critical for the new reign and for wiping out the vestiges of popular electoralism.

Naturally enough, General Prayuth took to polishing Prem’s aged butt, praising Prem’s “experience, ability and loyalty to the royal institution [he means monarchy]…”. So happy are the two together that Prem took Prayuth off for a “private meeting … that lasted about 15 minutes.”

Later, Prayuth explained that the old general “inquired about his work plans for the next year.” We assume his plans for political regression, deepening surveillance and a sham election were all ticked off by the palace’s man.





Updated: Mutual back-scratching

12 12 2016

It is not a secret that companies that do well in Thailand have tended to be big “donors.” Most conspicuously, they fork out millions each year to various royal things, including charities, projects and just handing over bags of money for unspecified royal use. In the giving season, there is an endless parade of donors handing over the loot. Most recently, it has been Princess Sirindhorn doing the receiving on behalf of the world’s richest monarchy. A red royal garuda outside the company head office is one marker of these Sino-Thai tycoons having gained royal approval and acknowledgement.

These companies give less conspicuously to state events and projects. Least conspicuous of all is the myriad of payments that are made to military officers, police top brass and senior bureaucrats. This can involve positions on boards. Think of General Prem Tinsulanonda’s long chairmanship of the Bangkok Bank and all that carried with it for the company and its owners. the marvelous and still unexplained wealth of former police chief Police General Somyos Pumpanmuang, who now heads the casino known as the Thailand Football Association.

Another strategy is the creation of advisory positions, paying nice monthly stipends but where little advising is required unless their is some trouble that needs to be ironed out. And then there are the payments to those officials who are required to do favors, bend rules, overlook things and so on.

This is oiling the wheels of their commerce and trade through a hierarchy of corruption. Yet a blind eye is turned because this is the great and the good scratching each others’ broad backs.

Sometimes, though, through arrogance, forgetting that this is shady dealing and knowing that everyone does it, a revelation is made. The mutual back-scratching is visible and confirmed as in a recent report at the Bangkok Post.

Perhaps believing that revealing unexplained wealth and extra income is okay because so many others have done it with impunity, city police chief Pol Lt Gen Sanit Mahathavorn declared that the giant alcohol and beverage producer Thai Beverage Plc pays him 600,000 baht a year as an “adviser.” ThaiBev is a company controlled by one of Thailand’s richest, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, worth almost $14 billion (naturally, he’s also close to the palace.) The Post story continues:

The payment is shown in Pol Lt Gen Sanit’s list of assets and liabilities that he recently declared to the National Anti-Corruption Committee (NACC) as a member of the National legislative Assembly (NLA). The record shows he began receiving the monthly stipend last year.

The news from the NACC was released in the middle of a long holiday weekend, when it is guaranteed to attract the least possible notice.

It seems the senior policeman thinks receiving loot from the country’s wealthiest – meaning they must be great and good – is normal despite the fact that one aspect of his job is to implement a range of laws that govern the operations of the beer kings, who also have huge land and property investments in Bangkok (and beyond). This senior cop can’t see any conflict of interest, but can see his bank balance doing very nicely. This senior policeman probably also thinks that 600,000 is something of a pittance when compared with all the other illicit funds that funnel up to him. This strategy of corruption in the police is well-documented, and that’s why senior police are so wealthy. When the NLA was put in place by the junta, the top cops averaged a whopping 258 million baht in assets. And, moonlighting by doing favors for the rich and powerful is widely believed to be “legal.”

The criticism has been muted. After all, this corrupt cop has just been appointed by the junta to the NLA, so criticis have to be careful or they could end up in jail, harassed or worse. Somchai Armin, the chairman of something called the Lawyers Association for Rights and Environment Protection, has demanded Sanit give up his job as adviser to ThaiBev. That’s it? Even the Post wonders: “Somchai provided no reason for failing to call for Pol Lt Gen Sanit to resign from the police.”

Of course, Sanit is laying low: he “was not available for comment as of the press time Sunday and it is not clear what advice he has offered to the firm.”

Update: Serial petitioner Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, has filed a petition on this case with the Office of the Ombudsman.  Srisuwan argues that the Police Lt General “might have violated the Royal Thai Police code of conduct and ethics of 2008, the Prime Minister’s Office regulation of 2008 regarding ethics of political office holders, and the National Anti-Corruption Act of 1989.” The Office of the Ombudsman now has to decide if it will do anything. The military junta has apparently done nothing.